I’ve been an attorney for more than twenty years and, quite honestly, I never actually envisioned myself doing anything else. I started my career with Pfizer in the R&D Legal Division, and absolutely loved it. Over the years, I was repeatedly offered new opportunities and I found myself declining them over and over again because I was happy where I was. Finally, when they asked a fourth time for me to take on the role as Chief Compliance Officer of the Oncology Business Unit, I knew if I said no, they would stop asking. So, I made the switch. And I loved every minute of that role also. It was around that time that I began to appreciate the benefits of thoughtful risk-taking. As a Compliance attorney, this was not in my DNA, and the concept took me some time to embrace.
Fast forward to May, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, my manager called and asked me if I was sitting down. He went on to say that Albert, our relatively new CEO, wanted me to apply for his open Chief of Staff role. I was stunned. This was not something I had envisioned as part of my career path. That being said, I was ready for a change, a new opportunity. I’d been in the Compliance Division for nearly ten years and was eager to do something different….something that would reinvigorate me…and this job certainly did that. As I considered whether or not to apply, it occurred to me that when the CEO asks you to do something, you had better either do it, or be prepared to find another place to work! So, I said yes, applied for and was offered the role as Chief of Staff to Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s Chairman and CEO. And, needless to say, notwithstanding my initial hesitation, working with Albert in this role, at this time in Pfizer’s history has been the absolute privilege of my lifetime.
Being a Chief of Staff is a bit like being an air traffic controller. Nearly everything that goes to Albert comes through me first and the “incoming” as I’ll call it, is extraordinary. Some days I feel like I solve problems for a living, as I’m constantly rearranging pieces of the puzzle to make things fit. The ability to navigate dynamic and ambiguous situations is critical and doing it calmly and with a smile is a must (but not always easy)! I probably make a hundred decisions a day on Albert’s behalf - on issues both large and small - and every day I pray those decisions are more right than they are wrong!
The work our Pfizer colleagues did during the pandemic to bring a safe and effective vaccine to market in record time was truly extraordinary. I assumed my role as Chief of Staff in June, 2020, in the midst of the vaccine development process. I had the opportunity to sit in on our Lightspeed meetings, as we called them, and witness history in action. I also had the opportunity to witness Albert in action. Without his strong leadership, I do not believe we would have had an effective vaccine in that condensed timeframe. A time when society so desperately needed it.
Albert believed in our colleagues in a way that they did not believe in themselves. When he asked them to do in eight months what typically takes eight years, no one thought it possible. Those Thursday meetings were tough…he pushed, people hesitated and he kept pushing. Remember, at this point, NYC was the epicenter of the pandemic and scores of people were dying each day. Morgues were being constructed on street corners to hold bodies. The situation was dire. So, when a colleague said they couldn’t do something, Albert didn’t take no for an answer.
Covid is clearly not done with us yet, as infections rates are on the rise. Unfortunately, I know from personal experience as everyone in my household has had it in the last few weeks. Fortunately, now that much of the population has been vaccinated and immunity is widespread, for many of us, symptoms are minor and largely manageable. We also now have an effective treatment available. Unfortunately, what we can’t forget is that there are members of our population (the elderly, immuno-compromised and others) who remain at high risk of severe covid if they are infected, so we need to continue to take the virus seriously and take precautions where we can.
I was introduced to the WIE Suite about five years ago by a dear friend. I was immediately impressed by the accomplishments of the extraordinary women members but, more than that, was moved by their unwavering commitment to supporting, uplifting and empowering one another. When a WIE Suite member asks for help, advice or input, the willingness of other members to answer the call and share their knowledge and experiences is truly incredible. It is an organization I am proud to be associated with.
I’ve had the benefit of having some truly great mentors throughout my career. I’ve found that most of those relationships have developed organically and not through any type of formal program. They were/are women and men with whom I’ve worked and developed mutually rewarding and beneficial relationships, and who are willing to stand up and advocate for me in rooms that I am not in. And I do the same for them. Without this type of support, I’m certain I would not be in the position I am in today.
I’m looking forward to my next opportunity, though I’m not entirely sure what it will be. I have learned over the years that it’s best to focus on excelling in the job you’re in, rather than overly focusing on what comes next.
I have been with Pfizer nearly twenty years, and I have loved every moment of it When the time is right, I look forward to what comes next, and I will embrace it with the same excitement and optimism that has guided me these last two decades.
When I think about women I admire right now, I don’t think about celebrities or politicians or any well-known public figures. I think about the hardworking women, the mothers, the daughters, the friends, the wives, the caretakers…the women who show up every single day and get things done, often while putting their own needs and desires on the backburner to take care of the needs and desires of their families and loved ones.
Many of these women work full-time jobs…they may be executives, like those of us in the WIE Suite, or they may work full-time in the home. They may be educators, doctors, or entrepreneurs. But whatever they are…what we all have in common is our desire to give the very best of ourselves to the ones who needs us most, while not losing the best of ourselves in the process. These are the women I admire most.
I don’t think we can speak about trends in the year ahead without mentioning the extraordinary impact that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to have on our society – particularly as it relates to healthcare. AI has the ability to transform how healthcare is delivered to patients, enhance patient outcomes and speed up the drug development process.
Prior to accepting her current appointment, she was Chief Compliance Counsel for Pfizer’s Research & Development, Medical and Manufacturing operations where she was responsible for a team of attorneys providing global compliance support to each of these areas. Her team was focused on preventing and detecting systemic risk, ensuring the effective implementation and management of compliance program elements, and regularly assessing compliance-related controls across the enterprise.
In 2022, Yolanda was named a David Rockefeller Fellow by the Partnership for New York. She is a member of the Board of the Boston College Law School Alumni Committee, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Boston College Wall Street Council. In 2017, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association honored Yolanda with a Luminary Award in recognition of her significant contributions to the healthcare industry and her dedication to advancing the careers of other women. She is also a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), a network of the nation’s most influential African American executives.
Yolanda began her career as a corporate attorney with the law firm Nutter, McClennen & Fish, in Boston, MA. She is a native Bostonian and proud double eagle, having earned her law degree from Boston College Law School and her undergraduate degree from Boston College. In 2022, Yolanda also received an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from Boston College.